Are you on track this year to achieve what you most want? Do you know, or do you have to think about it? Or, are you quietly saying to yourself, “I don’t know what I most want this year”? Or, “I knew, and I lost track of it.”
If you already know whether you are on track and the answer is “Yes, I’m on track.” Fantastic. This article is for the rest of us. Including yours truly.
Why don’t most people achieve what they most want, and instead spend so much time and energy running around in circles and feeling frustrated and unfulfilled?
Simple: they have not done the first step of personal development well. They have not clearly defined five crucial things…
Define Five Things
What is the first step in personal development? From my perspective, it is to get crystal clear on five crucial things:
- The ONE thing you most want to accomplish
- The #1 behavior you do that trips you up
- The #1 behavior you should do instead
- The strengths you already have and can apply to this situation, and
- A vision of what your highest potential looks like
Most people are not anywhere close to “crystal clear” on all five the above. Many have not even considered even one or two of those things.
All five things are required to optimize your personal development work. They appear separate yet they work as one. These five things make up Step One on this personal development journey. Nail that step, because clarity is power.
I call all five of these things on one page a Personal Development Compass. This article will help you get those five things on one page. Any page will do, even the back of a napkin. But if you’d like a template, you can find a Word template I created for you, here.
“Compass. Noun. ‘any of various nonmagnetic devices that indicate direction’
“Compass. Transitive verb. ‘to devise or contrive often with craft or skill’ or ‘to bring about or achieve’
If your personal development is going to actually go somewhere, a compass sounds like a good thing to have doesn’t it? So… download that template or just whip out your paper, pencil, and eraser. (You’ll need the eraser).
About that eraser…
You will not get this perfect the first time. Don’t let perfect get in the way of good. Give yourself permission to play. Permission to explore. Permission to revise and improvise. Permission to sketch.
1. What I Want
I encourage you to have two points of focus in this first section:
1A. Your #1 Goal: What is the ONE most important thing you want to accomplish between now and the end of the year?
Says easy, does hard. By this I mean it seems so straightforward, doesn’t it? But do you know your answer immediately? If not, maybe it is not so straightforward. If you struggle a bit in coming to your ONE thing, you certainly wouldn’t be alone. In fact, of the hundreds of people I’ve asked this question, not a single one didn’t at least pause and need to think about it.
But you are sketching, so just write down the ONE thing that comes to you and keep moving along. You can revise later. In fact, you will find this is most definitely an iterative process. So just relax into it.
1B. The #1 Change to Increase Care + Candor in My Small Group: What is the single most important change in psychological safety and breathtaking honesty you’d like to see happen in your small group (work team, family, a circle of friends, etc.) this year?
This requires a little more explanation…
Your #1 Goal isn’t going to happen solely due to you. It will happen because there is a group of people around you supporting you. Your work team, your family, a circle of friends, etc. At work, this would be either a) the people reporting to you, or b) if you do not have anyone reporting to you, the team on which you sit as a member.
What is lacking in most small groups is a very high degree of psychological safety combined with radical candor at the same time. Your small group may have low, medium, or high levels of each. But I’d bet my bottom dollar that both of these are not high at the same time. Even if both are really high, I wonder about this. When things get emotional, is the group able to keep both psychological safety and candor at a high level?
If your small group has both — high levels of psychological safety and radical candor — AND can sustain both at the level when things get emotional, my hat is off to you. You’ve got something pretty special going on. But you know that.
Why am I so focused on this?
A lack of extremely high levels of psychological safety and radical candor and the ability to sustain them when things get emotional is the single biggest limiting factor in the outcomes any group–including yours–can produce. Therefore, I know from a lot of personal and professional experience that one of the very best things you can do to accomplish your #1 Goal that you defined above is to also increase the psychological safety and radical candor aspects of your small group.
For example, if you want to increase the performance and satisfaction of a work team, increasing trust, productive conflict, commitment, and accountability are key (Patrick Lencioni, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team and also The Advantage.) Higher trust, more productive conflict, strong commitment, and high levels of accountability aren’t possible without upping the level of psychological safety and candor over the current levels.
What’s the outcome of a family? Love. Hopefully, healthy, unconditional love. Want to increase that? Make one another feel safer, and start talking about the things you avoid. Viola. Psychological safety and radical candor. That’s what we are talking about.
What’s the outcome of a circle of friends? Hopefully, enjoying the journey of life together in a healthy way. Which would mean growing, healing, and fulfilling their individual hopes, wishes, and dreams. Want to increase that in your circle of friends? You guessed it. Amp up psychological safety and radical candor.
I can’t think of a situation where people coming together isn’t served by increasing psychological safety and candor to higher levels. That is, of course, if that group of people wants to take whatever outcome they are currently producing–money/impact, love, enjoyment of life, etc.–to a higher level.
By the way, in most situations, it is important to up the psychological safety before you up the candor. The why for that is outside the scope of this article, but it shouldn’t be difficult to imagine that if you increase the candor before psychological safety things might get sideways in a hurry.
Lecture over. Pencil in your answer to 1B. How would you like to see your small group increase its capacity to produce better outcomes? Meaning, what would you like to see change in terms of psychological safety and candor… the #1 change? Pencil that in, and move on.
1C. Other Intentions: Where do you put the other things you feel you must do, the ones you said “no” to in order to say “Hell, yes!” to 1A above? Here. In this section. This is where the highest of the high that didn’t make #1 go.
(If your #1 Goal isn’t a “Hell, yes!” for you, you’ve got the wrong goal, partner.)
I hate to include this “Other Intentions” part. I really do. And maybe you shouldn’t. And if you feel you shouldn’t, don’t. But I’m a realist with a lot of experience. And when I ask people what their ONE thing is, they freak out. Hence, Other Intentions. The parking lot for other important things that didn’t make the cut for “most important.”
If you use this section, do not exceed five intentions on your list. There’s some science behind limiting the total to seven, and the two things above and the five things here would add up to seven. Fewer is better. And leaving this section out might be best. Your call.
That’s section 1. You now have three very important points of clarity:
- The #1 thing you want to accomplish this year.
- The #1 thing that needs to change in your small group to up the ability to produce even better outcomes
- Other key intentions for this year.
Nice work. You are rocking. You are ahead of most folks because (1) you’ve defined them and (2) they are written down.
That’s Section 1. That’s “What I Want.”
But how are you going make that happen… particularly since it hasn’t happened yet? You’ll need to change. How? Time to grab your courage in hand and get real with yourself. Game?
2. Behaviors That Trip Me Up
In order to achieve 1A and 1B above, you will need to change the way you act, the way you behave. This article doesn’t address the underlying system you will need to change to change this counterproductive behavior. I’ve written about that system here. Your task here is just to get the behaviors on the table, on paper, in writing. Don’t worry about the how yet. How starts with knowing what.
In this section, you get ruthlessly honest with yourself about the behaviors that have either prevented 1A and 1B in the past, or that will make it more difficult or impossible as you move from here to accomplish them.
Again: you are sketching. Just get something onto paper.
2A. Write down the #1 behavior that has prevented you from achieving your #1 Goal in the past… or will make it harder or impossible for you to do as you go after it now, this year.
Got that? Remember, sketch. Pencil. Erase and modify later. And keep moving
2B. Write down the #1 behavior you do that reduces the psychological safety in your small group. In other words, what your #1 negative contribution to that small group’s psychological safety and candor? Make sure what you write down is a behavior.
“I get frustrated,” for example, is not a behavior. Frustration is an internal state. The question then becomes what behavior do you do when you become frustrated? Examples of behaviors that arise from an inner state of frustration might be… “I say harsh things to certain people in staff meeting” or “I make snarky comments to my spouse” or “I go silent and cold and cut myself off from the people around me” are behaviors. See?
Don’t be surprised if this is a little harder to do than you might first think. Most people don’t see their own counterproductive behavior straightforwardly at all. We judge ourselves on our intentions, not our behaviors. And we are masters at justifying our bad behaviors. And justified bad behaviors become–in our mind–good behaviors or at least necessary ones. So if this is a bit of a struggle, a bit uncomfortable, a bit anxiety-provoking, etc., you wouldn’t be alone. In fact, you are in excellent company. You are with the rest of us!
Just answer the questions above to the best of your ability, and know that more is coming here on the blog to help you with this process.
If you are with me still, good job! Most folks get turned back by the swamp that is Section 2. After all, swamps have ‘gators, right? But the truth will set you free. So be a truthteller to yourself, for yourself.
The next part is more fun. Ready?
3. Behaviors I’ll Do Instead
This section is about cultivating new behaviors that better support your goals (and probably make you feel better about yourself) than the behaviors you listed in Section 2. It has two required parts and two optional ones.
3A. #1 Behavior to Drive #1 Goal. Pretty straightforward: What is the single most important behavior you need to do more of in order to more easily accomplish your #1 Goal in 1A above? You would do more of this behavior, and less of 2A above.
3B. #1 Behavior to Support the #1 Group Change. This may be a little more challenging to answer. So, if you do less of 2B above, what would you be doing more of instead? What is that single most important thing you would be doing that would increase psychological safety or sustain it in situations where you normally withdraw it?
The next two parts of section three are powerful but optional:
3C. Learn and practice how to manage your internal state.
The single most important thing you can do to “grease the skids” on accomplishing all the above is to get a lot better at managing your internal state when it goes “negative.” Your state goes negative more often than you think, and it impacts you and others more than you’d want to see. It is far beyond “the shadow you cast” and that impact on others.
When your internal state goes negative, your behavior follows. As does your intelligence, your ability to provide psychological safety, your capacity to learn and do the new behaviors in 3A and 3B, and, quite frankly, your enjoyment of life and how enjoyable you are to be around.
The simplest, most powerful way I know of to learn to actively and constructively work with your internal state is this: Learn to notice when your internal state has gone negative, and then practice self-compassion or compassion for others. There are many other ways. Find one that works for you. I’ll write more about other approaches later. But I choose these two because of their efficacy. Simply put, they work.
And practicing compassion and self-compassion is incredibly simple. Plus, practicing them doesn’t need to add more time to your day. Because you can learn to do both in-the-moment. And it will help send your internal state up the mood elevator. You’ll not only feel like a better person, but you will also more consistently act like the good person you are down deep inside.
When you practice compassion or self-compassion, you make yourself feel safe. When you feel safe, others will feel safer around you. And that’s a good, healthy thing.
If using compassion and self-compassion to better regulate your internal state sounds like something you’d like to at least try, then your entry in your Personal Development Compass for 3C is very simple:
“Notice when my internal state goes negative, and practice self-compassion or compassion.”
3D. Habits: What habits might you want to cultivate to support accomplishing 1A and 1B?
Habits can be a powerful way to support accomplishing 1A and 1B and doing the other things above. It is your choice as to whether you’d like to use this part of Section 3. The key here is to keep the list short. Work a short-list of habits until they become habits (usually about 4 months of consistent focus will do the trick), and move them off the list and bring something else in if needed.
4. Strengths I Can Leverage
This is quite simple but incredibly important. Achieving the goals in section 1 and flipping the behaviors in section 2 to be more like the behaviors in section 3 is going to require strength. So, in this section, you are answering the question:
“What strengths do I already have that could help me do all of the above if I focused those strengths on this?”
Can you see the power in this?
In Section 3 above, you are cultivating new behaviors that probably won’t be easy for you. If it were easy for you, you’d already be doing them. That is if it has occurred to you to do them. And it probably has.
In Section 2 above, you are identifying the behaviors to stop. You probably have known you should not do these behaviors, yet you’ve persisted in them over time.
Doing the behaviors in 3 and stopping the behaviors in 2 isn’t going to be easy. Embedded in your neural wetware — your brain and nervous system — is a very real system driving the behaviors in 2 and preventing the behaviors in 3. It isn’t easy to change that system. In fact, it is often exceedingly difficult.
So wouldn’t it make sense to summon your strengths and use the power of your intention and attention to focus those strengths on stopping 2 and starting 3?
Start with three strengths you can leverage. Just list them, keep it simple, and change them as you gain more insight into yourself.
5. Me, At My Highest Potential
The price of personal development is high, and the benefits priceless. Unfathomable. How do you measure the benefits of freedom, unconditional love, right action, deep wisdom, abiding compassion, equanimity, true capacity to serve others and life?
The purpose of section 5 is to help you keep going when you are slogging through the swamp that is section 2. Further, on your journey of self-knowledge, you will meet resistance, inner and outer. Also, there will be the various and sundry slings and arrows of the universe that seem like resistance in-the-moment.
On the other side of the transformation is a new you, the real you. Section 5 is as simple as imagining what that real you might look like, what qualities you might embody, the good you might do, the way you would be experiencing yourself, others, life… whatever it is you foresee when you are consistently living out of your very highest potential.
This one can be a bit difficult because it is imagining who you will be on the other side of a transformation that you can’t quite yet imagine using a process you don’t yet understand. Just remember you are sketching, and think about what you might be doing, what you might be embodying, and how you might be feeling inside if you were consistently unfolding your highest potential in any given moment.
If this vision thing is too woo-woo for you, let’s make it intensely practical. I’ll channel my inner CPA (I was one, you know.)
- Accomplished 1A and 1B
- Stopped doing the behaviors in 2
- Started doing the behaviors in 3, and
- Better leveraged your strengths (which further builds them) in the process.
You wouldn’t be the same person you are today, would you? I can most definitely tell you that you will not be. So the simple question is:
Who would you be? What others would see in you and feel from you? And how would you feel inside?
Write one to three sentences here that capture the essence of this. If this is dialed in and clear, you should feel excited or inspired… or at least a little curious or intrigued.
Let’s call it a wrap.
If you do the above steps — even just a preliminary sketch that you refine over time — you will be a world ahead of many people around you. You may not yet have remarkable clarity but you are one step closer.
Step back and look at those five elements as a whole. You took them bit by bit, but step back and behold them as one thing.
- You’ve said what you want to accomplish and how to improve the dynamics of the group whose support you will need.
- You’ve identified how you will trip yourself up if you do your normal doing, and what you should do instead.
- You’ve identified strengths you already have that you may not yet be focusing on helping you accomplish the above.
- You’ve imagined a compelling vision of you on the other side of all this that can call you forward when all you want is to quit.
That’s your compass–a clear foundation of your what, how, and why.
- What if you kept this in mind every day and aligned your actions and way of being with it?
- What if the people around you were doing the same?
- And what if you were supporting one another in doing all this?
- What would be the impact of that, of the outcomes and the goodness and the greatness of the individuals and the collective?
- What would happen if you and they and we were all moving towards compelling individual visions and collective visions rather than simply being whipped about by the distractions and vicissitudes of life?
Let’s face it. Most of us have lost our vision in the chaos of this crazy, modern life. Somewhere along the way social media, soccer schedules, inane politics, and all the craziness of our current world have hijacked our intention and our attention. That’s a travesty. And it’s zapping the life force, care, and hope from a world in dire need.
Snap out of it. Call your spirit home. Maybe put down the smartphone that makes you dumb, and hop off the social media sites that make you feel less connected to your real humanity and enable you to have many more superficial relationships at the expense of the precious few sitting right across the table from you. And maybe pause the insanity of chasing after so many things at the expense of the one thing that your higher self is whispering to you to do before you die… and yet you haven’t even clearly defined.
What should you do? Create a compass. Instead of checking Facebook all the time, at least occasionally look at your Personal Development Compass. It’s your true north. And ask yourself the most simple question in the world:
What is the next action I need to take to move the most important things forward?
If you’ve done your work, the self-guidance you need is already on your Personal Development Compass. The answer is there. Or it will at least point to it. Don’t let the things that are most important to you be at the mercy of the things that are least important.
Yes, there are many other projects and goals and tasks and emergencies and such NOT on your Personal Development Compass. True. True. Some will require your intention and attention. Yet if you allow those things to take 100% of your intention and attention and energy and action, nothing at all will change. You will feel unfulfilled, an angst, a lacking, a longing. The song will remain the same.
Call your spirit back.
Anchor what is most important to you on one page.
Review it regularly.
Block time on your calendar to act on it.
Revise it as your understanding and knowledge grow.
Serve better and higher.
Flourish, and in so doing, help others do the same.
And that would be a life well-lived, wouldn’t it?
The Personal Development Compass isn’t magic.
Become the magic.
The world very much needs that.
The Other Steps
Note at the beginning that I said, “They have not done the FIRST step well.” What are the other steps on this personal development journey?
- Step 2: Map out the ONE Thing (Have a Plan)
- Step 3: Map out why you can’t stop doing the behavior that trips you up (Know the Internal Operating System)
- Step 4: Integrate action and behavioral change into your daily flow (Do the Work)
- Step 5: Set-up peer support (Give and Receive Unconditional Support and Breathtaking Candor)
- These other steps are outside the scope of this article… But!
It all starts with Step 1: getting those goals, behaviors, and ideas on paper and finding clarity. And in future articles, you’ll find out a lot more about Steps 2 through 5.
I use three tools to help my clients identify their counterproductive behaviors, as well as their strengths and other aspects of their internal world and the system that drives behavior. These can help make this process easier. I use:
- Overly Confident / Overly Humble (a simple matrix)
- DISC (a personality style assessment)
- Enneagram (a more powerful personality style assessment)
From each, I guide clients to “mine” the three tools for their counterproductive behavior, strengths, and more. I’ll talk more about these tools in future articles, but you do not need these for your sketch.
You will notice that page 2 of the Personal Development Compass, which is a Word template for working through these five components of Step 1, includes a blank table I have my clients drop their personality style assessment information in to. This then informs their work on page 1. This works amazingly well! So if you have any of these tools already available to you, use them! But don’t be constrained by them. They are useful as stepping stones. Nothing more, nothing less.